Thursday, 22 April 2010

Heart of Borneo: Hopes & Fears

By Agence France-Presse, Updated: 4/22/2010

'Love-dart' slug, lungless frog among new species on Borneo

Wildlife researchers said Thursday they have discovered around 120 new species on Borneo island, including a lungless frog, the world's longest insect and a slug that fires "love darts" at its mate.

Conservation group WWF listed the new finds in a report on a remote area of dense, tropical rainforest that borders Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei on Borneo.

The three governments in 2007 designated the 220,000-square-kilometre (88,000-square-mile) area as the "Heart of Borneo" in a bid to conserve the rainforest.

"We have been finding on average three new species a month and about 123 over the last three years, with at least 600 new species found in the last 15 years," Adam Tomasek, head of WWF's Heart of Borneo initiative told AFP from Brunei.

"The new discoveries just show the wealth of biodiversity on Borneo island and the promise of many more future discoveries that could eventually help cure illnesses like cancer and AIDS and contribute to our daily lives," he said.

The "Heart of Borneo" region is home to 10 species of primate, more than 350 birds, 150 reptiles and amphibians and about 10,000 plants that are not found anywhere else in the world, the report said.

Among the finds are a seven-centimetre (three-inch) flat-headed frog, known as "Barbourula kalimantanensis", discovered in 2008, which breathes entirely through its skin instead of lungs.

Researchers in the same year also discovered "Phobaeticus chani", the world's longest stick insect, with a body 36 centimetres long. Only three specimens of the creature have ever been found.

Another interesting find was a long-tailed slug that uses "love darts" made of calcium carbonate to pierce and inject a hormone into a mate to increase the chances of reproduction.

The WWF urged governments act sensitively when developing the area's economic potential.

"We know that it is impossible for the three governments not to have development in mining, oil palm plantations and logging in the area," Tomasek said.

"What we want to have is a balance so that we have a foundation of conservation and sustainable development in order to protect this unique site for future generations," he added.

Indonesia and Malaysia, the world's two largest exporters of palm oil, account for 85 percent of global production.

Palm oil -- used extensively across the globe for biofuel, processed food and toiletries -- has been vilified by environmental campaigners for causing deforestation and threatening the survival of near-extinct species.

Tomasek said the "Heart of Borneo" initiative is also important for protecting the habitat of endangered species such as the pygmy elephant, orangutan, rhinoceros and clouded leopard.

"In many ways this is the last stronghold for the long-term survival of these species," he said.

The Sumatran rhinoceros is one of the world's most endangered species, with only about 200 remaining in the wild, up to 180 in Indonesia and the rest in Malaysia.

The Bornean sub-species is the rarest of all rhinos, with just 30 left in the wild on Borneo island.

Conservationists also warned the world has less than 20 years left to save about 50,000 to 60,000 of the charismatic red-haired orangutans left in the wild.

MSN News

Heart of Borneo: Nature and Culture

By Agence France-Presse, Updated: 4/21/2010

Rare Borneo rhino caught on camera in Malaysia

A rare Borneo rhino, thought to be pregnant, has been caught on camera in Malaysia, and wildlife experts said Wednesday a new calf would be a lifeline for the near-extinct species.

Just 30 rhinos remain in the wild in Borneo island, which is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, and researchers are only able to monitor the population through images captured on remote camera traps.

Images of the rhino, "believed to be a pregnant female, estimated to be below 20 years" were captured by a camera trap in February, the Malaysian arm of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) - said in a statement.

"There are so few Sumatran rhinos left in the world that each calf represents a lifeline for the species," international rhino expert Terry Roth said.

The Borneo sub-species is the rarest of all rhinos, distinguished from other Sumatran rhinos by its relatively small size, small teeth and distinctively shaped head.

The Sumatran rhinoceros is one of the world's most endangered species, with few left on Indonesia's Sumatra island, the north of Borneo island and peninsular Malaysia.

Laurentius Ambu, wildlife director for Malaysia's Sabah state, where the female rhino was spotted, said two rhino calves had also been seen in a similar area and urged the government to do more to enforce laws against poaching.

"Habitat protection and enforcement have been recognised as the main strategies in ensuring the survival of the rhino population in forest reserves," he said.

The WWF said the rhino's future on Borneo island would depend on preserving sufficient forest reserves for the animal.

Raymond Alfred, head of the WWF's Borneo Species programme said data from an ongoing rhino monitoring survey programme showed the animal's home range was affected by the expansion of palm oil plantations.

Malaysia is the world's second-largest exporter of palm oil after Indonesia, and the two countries account for 85 percent of global production. **

**Blogger's note: It should be noted that a large amount of the palm oil cultivated in Indonesia is Malaysian-owned. Hence Malaysia may be considered as the world's largest producer of palm oil.

MSN News

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Polygyny in Malaysia: "Don't pray pray ..."

By Agence France-Presse, Updated: 4/20/2010

Malaysia lawmaker pleads guilty to polygamy

A senior Malaysian Muslim lawmaker pleaded guilty Tuesday to a charge of polygamy after he married an actress without court permission, a court official said.

Muslim men in Malaysia are allowed up to four wives, but in certain parts of the country they must obtain written court consent or risk a fine or jail term under religious Sharia law.

Bung Mokhtar Radin, 50, a vocal parliamentarian from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, and his second wife, Zizie Ezette A. Samad, 31, both pleaded guilty to committing polygamy.

"They pleaded guilty and have been released on a bail of 500 ringgit (155 dollars) each pending a trial to be heard on May 18," said an official at a religious court in the central state of Selangor state.

They were married in a private ceremony in December last year, according to news reports.

Bung's lawyers could not be reached for comment.

Activists and women's groups say polygamy is cruel and has deviated from its original purpose in Islam, which was to protect widows and orphans.

Under Selangor state religious law, the couple could face up to six months in jail and a fine if they are found guilty.

Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, where more than 60 percent of its 27 million people are Muslim Malays. Polygamy is illegal for non-Muslims.

MSN News

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Joke of the Month: Malaysia given the license to talk tough by the great Obama ...

By Agence France-Presse, Updated: 4/16/2010

Malaysia warns Iran after cutting off gasoline supplies

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed Thursday that his country has cut off gasoline supplies to Iran, warning Tehran it was close to facing new international sanctions over its controversial nuclear program.

Najib's announcement came three days after he held talks with US President Barack Obama, who had called for the world to move "boldly and quickly" on tough sanctions against the Islamic republic.

"It's going to be quite inevitable that additional sanctions will be imposed in the near future unless there is some movement in the right direction by Iran," Najib said in Washington.

"The onus is on Iran now to react expeditiously to prevent additional sanctions."

The 15-member Security Council, including China, has already imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran over its refusal to halt sensitive uranium enrichment and is considering the prospect of a fourth round of UN sanctions.

The United States and its allies believe Iran is covertly working on a nuclear weapon, but the Islamic republic says it is pursuing only civilian power.

Najib said predominantly-Muslim Malaysia's state oil company Petronas decided to suspend gasoline supplies after consultations with the government.

He did not say when Petronas stopped supplies to Iran, but some reports said it was done in the middle of March.

Petronas is among a small group of non-Chinese oil companies supplying gasoline to Iran, the world's fifth-largest crude oil exporter.

A member of the OPEC cartel, Iran has seen investment in petroleum refineries shrink as a result of US sanctions. It has resorted to importing about 40 percent of its gasoline needs.

Najib said that while Malaysia maintained that Iran had the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, Tehran must comply with the UN Security Council decision ordering it to suspend uranium enrichment activities until the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can verify they were exclusively peaceful as Iran claimed.

"They must earn the trust of the international community and the only way they can earn the trust is to be fully transparent in whatever they do and allow full verification by the IAEA," he said.

"There are some serious doubt as to whether this has been carried out or has been complied with by Iran," he added.

Asked whether Malaysia was reviewing any current projects or possible joint ventures in Iran, Najib said: "We will see how it goes, we do not want to send the wrong signals.

"We appreciate the importance of our economic relations with Iran as well."

Ambassadors from the five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany -- met for a second straight day in New York Thursday on the sanctions issue.

On the table was a US draft resolution outlining sanctions in five areas: arms embargo, energy, shipping, finance and targeted punitive measures against Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards, a diplomat familiar with the discussions said.

"Our sense is that countries of the Security Council, probably including China and Russia as well, there is a shift in their opinion to indicate they would go for stronger sanctions against Iran," Najib said.

Iran insists it needs the higher-enriched uranium to fuel a research reactor which makes radioisotopes for medical purposes, such as the treatment of cancer, where the current fuel is expected to run out by the end of this year.

But Tehran has snubbed an IAEA-brokered deal that would have seen Russia and France fashion the fuel out of Iran's own stockpile of low-enriched uranium.

Najib said Petronas would "certainly" lift its suspension on gasoline supplies if Iran complied with the IAEA.

"We believe in engagement but Iran has to respond as well and there are some clear indications of their non compliance."

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